Turkey urges WHO to do more for Gazans hit by war

FILE PHOTO: Turkish Health Minister Koca speaks during a news conference in Ankara

ANKARA (Reuters) -Turkey's health minister said on Thursday that he had urged the World Health Organization to guarantee the provision of medical services to Gazans hit by the Israel-Hamas war, and that its efforts so far were insufficient.

The WHO defended its actions, saying it had been striving to get supplies into Gaza since the start of the emergency.

Israel has imposed a "total siege" on Gaza since a deadly cross-border incursion by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, and the Rafah crossing with Egypt, controlled by Cairo, has been the only route in for humanitarian aid.

NATO member Turkey has so far sent nine cargo planes of aid to Egypt for the Gaza Strip, and offered to set up a field hospital in Egypt to help treat the wounded and fly some to Turkey if necessary. It has condemned Israel's attacks on the Palestinian enclave and called for an immediate ceasefire to allow more humanitarian aid in.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said he had reminded WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a letter sent on Wednesday of the WHO's professional responsibility to help civilians in need and told him that its efforts should be "much greater than what you have done so far".

"WHO, with its responsibility of leadership and by taking necessary initiatives urgently, must ensure the safety of healthcare provisions in Gaza," Koca wrote in the letter, which he posted on X, formerly Twitter.

"WHO has, throughout this crisis, called for unimpeded humanitarian access for supplies and staff into Gaza, for the protection of health services, health workers and civilians, and for a humanitarian ceasefire," a spokesperson said in emailed comments to Reuters. Tedros had personally met with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Oct. 9 to request his support for getting aid supplies through the Rafah crossing, he added.

Turkey has toughened its criticism of Israel as the fighting and humanitarian crisis in Gaza have intensified.

Many of its NATO allies and the European Union consider the Hamas militants who run the Gaza Strip a terrorist organisation.

But on Wednesday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Hamas was a liberation group fighting to protect Palestinian lands and people, while slamming Western countries for their support of Israel.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Christina Fincher)